Republicans pursue two-week spending bill

Republicans pursue two-week spending bill
© Greg Nash

Congressional Republicans are pursuing a short-term bill that would avert a looming shutdown and fund the government through Dec. 22, GOP leadership aides said.

The plan would mean lawmakers will likely need to pass a second stopgap spending measure right before the holidays that would keep the government’s lights on into January.

GOP leadership has been wrestling with how to avoid a government shutdown when current funding runs out Dec. 8. The latest strategy to emerge on Thursday would involve passing a two-week continuing resolution (CR) next week, GOP aides said.

If a deal on a massive, trillion-dollar omnibus package for fiscal 2018 can’t be reached by then — a scenario that lawmakers acknowledge is likely — then they would have to pass an additional CR that punts spending talks and debate on other contentious issues into January.

“I think [a two-week CR] is going to happen,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), an Appropriations cardinal, told reporters Thursday. “We would hope we could finish an overall deal by then, but until there’s an agreement on top-line numbers, there’s just no way to get a final deal.

“Every day that we delay, it makes it much more complex,” he said.

But it’s a potentially risky gambit that relies on Democrats agreeing to back two separate CRs. The GOP needs the support of some Senate Democrats to keep the government's lights on.

Many Democrats and at least one Republican have demanded that any spending legislation include a fix for former President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

However, Democrats have so far been reluctant to say that they would oppose a January CR — and risk being blamed for a shutdown.

“We’re going to have to have a discussion in our caucus. We want to get the budget issue settled right away,” Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenOvernight Cybersecurity: Bipartisan bill aims to deter election interference | Russian hackers target Senate | House Intel panel subpoenas Bannon | DHS giving 'active defense' cyber tools to private sector Senators unveil bipartisan push to deter future election interference Maryland Dems ask Hogan about response to tax law MORE (D-Md.) told The Hill Thursday.

“We’re not pushing for a shutdown,” he added.

Republicans on Thursday said it’s likely that the two-week CR will be a clean extension. Further complicating negotiations is that Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDemocrats search for 51st net neutrality vote Overnight Tech: States sue FCC over net neutrality repeal | Senate Dems reach 50 votes on measure to override repeal | Dems press Apple on phone slowdowns, kids' health | New Android malware found Overnight Regulation: Dems claim 50 votes in Senate to block net neutrality repeal | Consumer bureau takes first step to revising payday lending rule | Trump wants to loosen rules on bank loans | Pentagon, FDA to speed up military drug approvals MORE (R-Maine) wants to see a bipartisan health-care bill attached to the CR in order to secure her vote on tax reform, but Republicans said that likely wouldn’t fly in the House.

“I would vote for it. But 218 Republicans? It’d be tough,” Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), a senior appropriator and chairman of the moderate Tuesday Group, told reporters Thursday.

Chatter grew Wednesday that the entire government-funding fight could be kicked into January. Conservatives believe they would have more leverage to get a better deal under that scenario.

But defense hawks have been demanding a spending boost for the Pentagon. Setting a Dec. 22 deadline puts pressure on Congress to at least strike a deal on top-line spending numbers for fiscal 2018 before skipping town for Christmas.

“Probably better to do one (CR), but for tactical reasons they need to do two,” Dent said. “I suspect we’re doing this in two steps to placate the concerns of some of the defense hawks.”